The past few weeks my friends and I have been thinking hard about the living history community, or lack thereof. There are tons of people who bring history to life by recreating the dress, the skills, the environments, the personalities of the past. However, we are a pretty fragmented bunch, working in small groups, to incredibly various ends. This is not necessarily a bad thing, it means that most folks who want to get involved in a group re-creating history have a lot of different groups to choose from, all representing different time periods and geographies, different levels of historical accuracy, recreating different slices of life, groups have different governing structures, aims and goals, time commitment, you name it. There might just be an infinite number of different ways to style a living history group or organization, and the only reason why there are not an infinite number of living history groups is the limited number of people to join those groups!
As an insider this diversity can be a challenge, but for a non-participant it is almost impossible to navigate. To someone whose interest in living history is only tangential what is the difference between a renaissance faire, the SCA, an experimental archaeology group, a member of Regia Anglorum, a LARP, a Heritage site like Yorvik, and a museum like Higgins Armory; a couple hundred years of history? When talking to a friend, work colleague, or acquaintance about what I do when I’m not at my nine-to-five, they are very easily confused. Heck, I often get asked about civil war and revolutionary war reenactments when I talk about my interest in dressing up and portraying the past, because I’m in America, and those might be the two most popular time periods to re-create.
But I don’t do all of those different types of living history. I don’t want to --well, most days I don’t want to. When I am introduced to a friend of a friend they draw on what little they know, and try to continue the conversation by saying something like:
“you reenact the Renaissance, are you a member of the SCA?”
“You do Renaissance faires, do you do that Live Action Role Play stuff?”
my answer is no. I don’t. Then I feel I have to explain why; I need to justify my choices in reenactment, and explain that I am not one of them. If the question is about the Revolutionary war or the civil war I can fairly easily explain that I am interested in a different historical period or in reenacting less military aspects. When the question is about a group recreating a similar time-period and geographic location, I have a harder time being neutral in my answer. It is hard not to go for the: “I am better than them” sort of answer, to put others down to make my own choices appear less kookey.
Over the past few years, I’ve made a concerted effort to not degrade any person or group that could at all be considered living history, or historical reenactment, particularly since attending Reenactorfest, working with more diverse groups, and especially since starting the podcast. There are too few of us doing this sort of thing, and as my friend Amanda put it: “Why does there have to be a ‘them’?”
As a whole, I have found different living history and reenactment groups to be friendly and welcoming, and very willing to engage in a cross-group dialogue about living history. What other people can we talk to in a meaningful way about this wonderful way of life? But we still have trouble when talking to strangers. Time after time I see reenactors and living history folks put down other groups to perfect strangers. Or even sometimes to other reenactors in a “aren’t we both better than those Hollywood types” or something equally ridiculous.
I am going to work harder at being nice to every type of living history group. I hope you will join me.
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